By Lauren Fetherston
The Andy Morgan Foundation are introducing an innovative new scheme to battle bullying and social isolation in Irish schools with a special seating plan, Buddy Benches.
The scheme works with children being taught that if another pupil is sitting on one of the benches, in the playground – that is the cue that other children should ask them one simple thing: “Do you want to play?”
The seating is designed so that all children in a playground know that it is not okay to leave someone out.
And interestingly, children with autism have also become more integrated in to a busy playground, thanks to the benches.
Joanne Featherston, the founder of the Andy Morgan Foundation, said the aim is for the bench “to act like a crutch for children who, when out in the school yard, find it hard interacting with other children. They sit on the bench and this acts like a signal to the other children to invite this child to play.
“This programme is great for children with autism as well, I’ve had feedback from parents whose children are autistic saying they think the buddy bench is a great idea”.
When giving a bench to a school the Andy Morgan Foundation give a talk to the children, making the issue as upbeat as possible, with games and a performance of ‘The Buddy Bench song,’ sang by Rachel Brady and Keemar Bstarr Edwards.
On Friday 40 children sat patiently in the Afterschools Education and Support Programme on Dublin’s Sheriff Street, listening to the Andy Morgan Foundation’s message. Music filled the air and the children danced. The children and their teachers even had a dance off.
Joanne said: “Through positive reinforcement like today this programme can really work. My ideal is for this Buddy Bench system to give children a chance to show compassion to each other.
“A mother contacted me the other day telling me how her daughter had heard about the scheme and when she saw another child by herself, asked her to play. That mother was so proud of her daughter.”
This initiative is not the first of its kind but it is one of the first set up in Ireland. The Andy Morgan Foundation, a group of volunteers, only charges schools for timber and paint to make the benches.
A number of schools have been presented with benches and the demand is increasing. Angie McEvoy, from the group, said: “Schools have been contacting us and we have two schools in Galway waiting on benches. It’s really spread across the country.”
The Andy Morgan Foundation has plans to give benches and provide a talk at the Ballymun Child and Family Resource Centre in two weeks’ time.
The group will be creating a Wall of Hope – an instillation creating positive feelings – in Trim, Co Meath, for Mental Health Awareness week.
Mental health Awareness week will take place from October 9-15.
There is also a Buddy Bench Ireland, a business providing a similar service to the one mentioned in the article above – which is a charity. You can find out more here.